How to end poverty and food insecurity

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Tue 21st Oct, 2014

Beyond the fact that it is next year (2015) for the grace period to elapse of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, we still have a long way to go in order to effectively build Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition. Where are the seeds of hope when the innocent suffer the most! What can we do when Seventeen Thousand Children die every day from hunger, buried in the land that could have provided food for them-because they did not have the ability/capacity and implements or know-how, yet they were not even a helping hand to create gardens! We need to rethink policies and investments for poverty reduction and enhancing food security to fully present the case and a possibility for food sovereignty in Africa- the right to food for all. But is this possible amidst the prevailing circumstances of the growing population, growing food dependence, food wastage, climate change, and land degradation, inadequate investments in the agricultural sector and the escalating poverty in our beloved continent? Can we produce what we eat and eat what we produce? With food insecurity and poverty, we need great care and benefit to change our attitudes and feelings towards us and ourselves to determine a joint vision for our destiny because we cannot hate the disease and fear the cure.

Facts and figures indicate that hunger arise from lack of income, not from the physical absence of food. This is true even in case of famine, the most dramatic and gruesome expression of hunger. By far more millions are mal- or under nourished than are affected by outright famine. Even if one substantially reduces World Bank (2010) estimates, that 50 percent of Africans are malnourished and 25 percent seriously so, one still has tens of millions of malnourished people. These are the poorest urban families, slum dwellers, poor rural peasants and landless labourers. In terms of numbers, the largest groups are the poor peasants, with some land but not enough (or not good enough) to provide subsistence without additional remittances. Clearly changing Climate patterns enter here. People go short of food and hungry at particular seasons of stress, typically the growing season prior to the main or only harvest. At this time food stocks are at the lowest, labour requirements tend to peak, and in many cases rainy weather means increased incidence of illness. There is no doubt about the socio-economic determination of hunger.
But what is hunger? Television images and newspaper pictures haunt us, stunted, bony bodies and long lines waiting for a meager bowl of gruel. This is famine-hunger in its acute form, the kind no one could miss, but hunger comes in another form. It is a day-in-day-out experience that ever 700 million people suffer worldwide. While chronic hunger doesn't make the evening news, it takes more lives than famine. Every year this largely invisible ulcer (hunger) kills as 18 - 20 million people more than twice the number who died each year during the World War II. Statistics like this are staggering. They shock and alarm. Numbers can numb if we are to fully depend on them though they paint a picture that guides our analysis. They can bring distant facts close to use. So we can ask ourselves: what really hunger is? Is it the growing pain in the stomach when we miss a meal? The physical depletion of those suffering chronic under-nutrition? The listless stare of a dying child in the television hunger appeal? Yes, but it is more. And we become convinced that as long as we conceive of hunger only in physical measures, we will never truly understand it, certainty its roots.

What we asked ourselves, would it mean to think of hunger in terms of universal human emotions, feelings that of us have experienced at sometimes in our lives? Let me mention only four of such emotions, to give readers of this column an idea of what we mean. I tried to help a family whose son and daughter had died of fever and diarrhea, both had been lost in the years when Susan and her husband had chosen to pay their mortgage, a sum equal to half of the value of their crop garden, rather than keep the money to feed their children. Each year their choice was always the same. They paid as their children's lives were endangered. If they didn't, their land could be repossessed. Being hungry thus could mean anguish of impossible choices!

In Ethiopia three years ago, we met Amanda, a poor fellow, she told us that had never had enough to feed her family. She told us that she had endured six still births and watched four of her children die before the age of one year. To Amanda, being hungry means watching people you love most die. Walking into the home of the rural poor Uganda, the first words we heard were an apology for the poverty of the dwelling with no food for themselves and the visitors. Being hungry also means living in humiliation. Anguish, grief, and humiliation are part of what hunger means. But increasingly throughout the world, hunger has a fourth dimension.
In Kenya in 2012, we met two poor highland peasants. We were teaching people how to reduce soil erosion on the steep slopes into which they had been pushed by wealthy land owners monopolizing the valley land. One year later, the friend who had introduced the peasants to us, visited our offices in Nairobi. We learnt that one had been forced into hiding; the other had been killed, because they were teaching their fellow inhabitants how to survive on steep slopes. In the eyes of the wealthy their crime was teaching their neighbours better farming techniques. Their oligarchy feels threatened by a change that makes the poor less dependent on low paying jobs on their plantations without any food and nutrition security. Then, a fourth dimension of hunger is fear.

Anguish, grief, humiliation and fear explain traits of the hungry. What if we were to simply refuse to count the hungry and instead try to understand hunger in terms of such universal emotions? We discovered that how we understand hunger only as numbers - numbers of people with too few calories - the solution also appears to us in numbers - numbers of tons of food aid, numbers of dollars in economic assistance, number of acres on which we can grow food. But once we begin to understand hunger as real people coping with the most painful emotions, we can perceive its roots.

Agricultural production and productivity growth remain essential for better nutrition, but more should be done. Investing in Agriculture is essential for reducing hunger and promoting sustainable agricultural production. Demand growth today and over the coming decades will place increasing pressure on the natural resource base especially arable land and water. Eradicating hunger sustainably will therefore require a sufficient increase in agricultural investments but also on improvement in their effectiveness. Better governance of food systems at all levels, facilitated by high level political support, is needed to build a common vision, to support evidence -based policies, and to promote effective coordination and collaboration through integrated multi-sectoral action. Agricultural policies and research must continue to support productivity growth for staple foods while greater attention to nutrient dense foods and sustainable production systems. Tradition and modern supply chains can enhance the availability of a variety of nutritious foods and reduce nutrient waste and loses. Consumers ultimately determine what they eat and therefore what food systems produce. Addressing malnutrition requires a strategic orientation for practical approaches that include complementary interventions leading to improved diets and better nutrition.

Poor peasants suffer most seasonal food stress because they lack reserves and adequate food storage infrastructure and so they end up wasting or losing a lot of food during plenty. We therefore need to highlight a major campaign to cut massive levels of global food loss and waste in support of'' Food Sovereignty and sustainable Food Security" ideology. All the campaign aspects should aim at promoting actions by consumers and food retailers to dramatically cut the 1.3 billion tons of food lost or wasted each year- which aside from the cost implications and environmental impacts increase pressure on already straining global food system- and help shape a sustainable future. For sure, no economic, environmental or ethical argument can be made to justify the extent of food waste and loss currently happening in Africa. Consumers and policy makers can push for change with a thinking that the astonishing amount of food we throw away is not just edible and nutritious, but also delicious.

According to Food and Agricultural Organisation, roughly 95 percent of the food loss and waste in Africa is unintended at early stages of the food production and supply chain due to financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage and cooling facilities in difficult climatic conditions, infrastructure, packaging and marketing systems. Food preservation is an effective way of saving food and preventing it from being wasted or lost. In fact, African communalities have been employing food saving methods for centuries in order to prolong its shelf life- but we got lost on the way to civilization. What happened to the drying of cassava and sweet potatoes before storage, smoking of meat and fish,, keeping of dry cereals mixed with ash in 'ebyagi' (traditional stores) and keeping of milk in form of ghee and powder, and storing of fresh food in earthed pots? Therefore a more efficient food supply is key to feeding an expected population of 9 billion by 2050.

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